Fly­ing high

Ac­claimed di­rec­tor Richard Lin­klater again keeps it real

Regina Leader-Post - - MOVIES - CHRIS KNIGHT ck­night@postmedia.com

LAST FLAG FLY­ING

★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Cast: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Lau­rence Fish­burne

Di­rec­tor: Richard Lin­klater

Du­ra­tion: 2h5m

Richard Lin­klater makes weird se­quels. His Be­fore tril­ogy with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy came out in 1995, 2004 and 2013. (Is it over? Ask again in 2022.) In 1993 he made Dazed and Con­fused, set in 1976 on the last day of high school; then last year he de­liv­ered Every­body Wants Some!!, which takes place in 1980 on the Au­gust week­end be­fore the start of uni­ver­sity.

His new­est, Last Flag Fly­ing, is a sort-of se­quel to Hal Ashby’s The Last De­tail, which was re­leased in 1973 and won Jack Nicholson the best-ac­tor prize at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, plus an Os­car nom­i­na­tion. That one was set dur­ing the Viet­nam War, and fea­tured a young sol­dier on his way to mil­i­tary prison. Last Flag Fly­ing picks up 30 years later. Both are based on books by Dar­ryl Pon­ic­san, and while the char­ac­ters aren’t the same, they’re clearly the same types.

Bryan Cranston is the Nicholson sort, now named Sal Nealon and run­ning a bar. Business isn’t great, but at least he’s got a place to drink, and to crash after­ward. One day, in walks Larry (Doc) Shep­herd (Steve Carell), who served with him in ’Nam and then served time for some un­de­fined mis­de­meanour.

The two men then seek out an­other vet­eran, Richard Mueller (Lau­rence Fish­burne), who has set aside his brawl­ing ways and be­come a preacher. The trio thus as­sem­bled, Doc re­veals why he brought them to­gether — his son has just been killed while serv­ing in the Iraq War, and he’d like them to at­tend the fu­neral.

This would seem to be an easy as­sign­ment, but noth­ing in war or its af­ter­math is ever easy. They ar­rive at an air force hangar to two very dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tives of the young Marine’s death — one from his com­mand­ing of­fi­cer, a real pa­per-pusher named Wil­its (Yul Vazquez) an­other from Lance Cpl. Washington (J. Quin­ton John­son) who was there, and now sags un­der the weight of sur­vivor’s guilt.

In this scene the struc­ture of the older men’s friend­ship be­comes clear. Sal is the devil on Doc’s left shoul­der, Richard the an­gel on his right. “We pay for what we say,” Richard aphorizes at one point. To which Sal replies brusquely: “Put it on my tab.”

Last Flag Fly­ing con­tin­ues a re­cent trend in Amer­i­can cin­ema of low-key, sur­pris­ingly ma­ture war movies that man­age pa­tri­o­tism with­out jin­go­ism (see Thank You for Your Ser­vice, Meagan Leavey and Billy Lynn’s Long Half­time Walk). It knows when things are best kept vague, and when to em­ploy specifics.

For in­stance, the rea­sons for Doc’s in­car­cer­a­tion are re­vealed spar­ingly, and only as re­quired. This is clearly one of those wartime mem­o­ries that is sel­dom spo­ken of by its par­tic­i­pants.

There’s a won­der­ful, some­times silent short­hand among the char­ac­ters, par­tic­u­larly Carell’s. Ev­ery time I see him putting on the blus­ter in a larg­erthan-life per­for­mance, I’m con­vinced that’s ac­tu­ally him. Then he packs it all away again to play an in­tro­vert like Doc, and damned if that doesn’t feel like the real thing, too.

Lin­klater han­dles the ma­te­rial adroitly, with a min­i­mal score that could be di­aled back even fur­ther — it feels in­tru­sive when­ever the mu­sic swells. But that’s lit­er­ally in the back­ground. What re­mains af­ter the cred­its roll is a pro­found med­i­ta­tion on war­fare, and the nexus of its phys­i­cal re­al­ity and its psy­cho­log­i­cal com­po­nents. Is hon­our as real a thing as death? Doc isn’t sure. Maybe no one can be.

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